June 19, 2003

No more free water for the urban poor

Poor urban communities will from July 1st 2003 be without clean and safe drinking water, unless they reach the bottom of their already dry purses, to get the right to access to drink, cook and bathe from clean and safe water.

Water and Sewage Authority (WASA) will hand over (or close) public standpipes to the communities and implement new water charges starting July 1st 2003. This was disclosed by WASA Chief Executive Officer Sechoba Makhoalibe at a press conference on June 17, 2003, Maseru.

Makhoalibe disclosed that from 1st July, the Ministry of Local Government would stop paying for public standpipes water bills around the urban areas in Lesotho, and thus the decision for the public to take responsibility of the community water supply. He mentioned that WASA has issued letters to chiefs notifying the public that in July the Local Government will no longer cater for water bills for public standpipes, meaning if the public does not respond, there will be no more free water.

WASA has come up with three options following the handing over of the public stand pipes, which were often misused and therefore failing to achieve the objective of providing water for the urban poor, according the CEO. He said WASA will provide the cheapest systems that could be easily implemented by the public which are Water Kiosk (water café) that is managed by the community through elected committees, adding that WASA takes only 40% of the amount made per month, while 60% of the amount is taken by the community for the maintenance of the standpipe. The water kiosks are already operating at Leqele, Butha Buthe, Thaba-Tseka and Ha Abia.

The second option would be whereby the community adopts a Shared Water Point, where the community through the elected committee controls public standpipes. The committee registers families and individuals that draw water, set time when water should be drawn, and collect the money for the payment of the water charges on monthly basis. He noted that the last option offered by WASA is the Prepaid Meters (water cards), where individuals buy own water cards in advance and draws water as per their requirements. The system has already been tested with some communities, but WASA appreciates there is need to work on the securities for the card system.

The issue of free public water is not only a concern in Lesotho, but the whole world, whereby arguments and lobbying for access to clean and safe water for household use becomes a basic human right. However, especially in Lesotho, public standpipes have not been properly managed resulting in heavy bills for the municipality and the local government. (Mopheme/The Survivor, Maseru)

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